Live: Dizzee Rascal Tears Down Southpaw
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Dizzee Rascal + Game Rebellion Southpaw March 11, 2008
I miss grime. A couple of years ago, that jittery London dance-rap shit was supposed to take over the world, but it never happened since almost nobody involved could string together more than a couple of good songs. My first post for this blog was about the big Knitting Factory debuts of Kano and Roll Deep, and even then the movement's momentum was flagging. People are still making grime records (Durty Goodz' Axiom EP last year was pretty good), but the urgency and vitality, the sense that London was suddenly populated almost entirely by scrappy quick-tongued teenagers battling each other in dingy pirate-radio studios, is over. Dizzee Rascal, grime's greatest voice, was always bigger than the genre that raised him; his best tracks found him neck-deep in a sort of tweaked version of old-school 808-driven rap fetishism. But seeing him in person for the first time at Southpaw last night brought a furious and unexpected burst of nostalgia for an era that's barely had time to end. Before Boy in Da Corner, I'd never heard anything quite like those twisty jungle-informed low-fi big-bass tracks, and since then I've still heard precious little that compares. And it's not like the newer stuff sucks; I actually prefer Dizzee's second and third albums, the ones where he locked his bruising yelp into something that hewed closer to the Southern trunk-rattle rap I love. But I guess I hadn't quite realized how much get-buck potential those old tracks had. Back in 2003, those tracks sounded like the work of an isolated bedroom producer venting angst. Hearing this stuff really loud brought home the idea that this was always club music, club music for kids with a whole lot of pent-up energy. The good news: Dizzee's tweaked his style since that first album, but he hasn't sacrificed any of the adrenal, chaotic momentum that he first exhibited when he was 16. Southpaw is normally the sleepiest non-seated venue in the city, but last night it was about ready to explode.
Onstage, Dizzee shows a really serious young-lion charisma, and he knows how to put on a show; he and his never-introduced hypeman hit all their marks hard enough that they'd clearly spent a whole lot of time rehearsing. On a technical level, Dizzee is a monster of an MC, capable of belting out serious double-time lines without losing his breath or letting the beat swallow his words. All night, he stuck tenaciously to his beats, never leaving the pocket; it'd be nice if El-P learned something from that during their forthcoming coheadlining tour. Better still, Dizzee managed to keep an industry-heavy Park Slope crowd from losing energy, some kind of Herculean feat. "This place is known for its stiffness," he said as he took the stage, before letting us know that fuck all that and launching directly into "I Luv U," the single that made his name. During "Pussy'ole (Old Skool)," near the end of the set, Dizzee cleared out a space on the floor for breakdancing and said that he wanted to see some moves. After a few seconds, he cackled: "Rubbish!" The set lost momentum a bit halfway through when he tried out a few relatively downtempo tracks like "Excuse Me Please," but he wisely stayed away from pathos-laden power-balladry like "Dreamin'" and "World Outside." I could've used a little more of his vicious second-album beatdown jams like "Learn," but all was forgiven by the time the guitar-skree from "Sirens" kicked in. Last night's show was a serious breath of fresh air: a young but seasoned rapper with effortless stage-control barely letting up over the course of an hour. More rap shows need to be like that one. And credit is due to unbearable cheeseball DJ Aaron LaCrate for just playing the records and never hogging attention.
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No credit is due to the shithead bouncers at Southpaw, who kept people waiting on line outside way longer than was necessary; that place either needs to figure out a better way to get people through its doors or to stop having shows altogether. And I'm still making up my mind about openers Game Rebellion, a musclebound Brooklyn knucklehead sextet who took the Anthrax version of Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" as a jumping-off point for every one of its songs. Essentially, Game Rebellion is dumb as shit: playing a medley of "Hail Mary" and "PSA" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," planting their equally musclebound friends down front to start a moshpit, making hall-of-fame guitar-faces during the retro-thrash solos. But they're dumb in what might be a good way. Their frontman reminded me of the Rock, their drums had a little go-go in them, and I sort of like the idea that someone's out there carrying on in the proudly mookish tradition of, like, Biohazard. If someone remade The Warriors right now, it'd be a no-brainer to feature these guys playing in a gang clubhouse in one scene. Or: Game Rebellion is essentially Downset except not as good, and I guess I'll take that.
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